Presence practice #1: Physical awareness–Move it!

Physical practices are a convenient fast track to improving presence. While our minds may wander, our body is always right here.

Years ago we met someone who used to work directly with Walt Disney. He told us that whenever creative thinking was needed and missing, Walt would say, “Change the setting!” People would get up and move—maybe go for a walk, find another place to meet, or simply get up and change the configuration of the furniture in the room. Most of the time, new thinking emerged in the new setting.

Movement tends to awaken all our senses, increase presence, and energize thinking. A few suggestions:

  • Have a walking meeting. Grab a notebook or note cards in case someone says something brilliant.
  • In the same vein, the next time your own thinking gets stuck, go for a walk. Notice how heavily your feet hit the ground; see if you can step more lightly, then even more lightly. Then, add force to your step and notice the heaviness increase. Then, just enjoy the walk.
  • If you are working at your desk, stand up every twenty minutes to stretch, take a few steps, look out a window, and notice something new.
  • If you are having a bad day, hike up a moderate hill. It is hard to stay negative during a pleasant uphill walk. Start up the incline and position your body like you are dismayed, fatigued, or beaten (e.g., slumped shoulders). Then, shift to a posture of confidence (e.g., back straight, chest up and out, chin level to the ground). Do both again. Stay with the one you like.
  • Do a performance review in an unexpected setting. Ask the other person where he or she would like to go. Go there and have the conversation.
  • In general, move frequently while you notice breathing, posture, and details of your environment.

Movement restores the connection between mind, emotion, and body. In his book Get Up!, Dr. James Levine says, “Sitting is the new smoking.” Levine maintains that sitting all day is unnatural and to blame for all kinds of ailments. “This is about hard-core productivity. You will make money if your workforce gets up and gets moving. Your kids will get better grades if they get up and get moving,” he says. “The science is not refuted.”